We're Doing It Wrong: 25 Ideas in Education That Just Don't Work―And How to Fix Them

David Michael Slater is a veteran middle and high school teacher who was named the City of Beaverton, Oregon’s Educator of the Year in 2012. He is also an acclaimed author of over 20 works of fiction for children, teens, and adults. His work for children includes the picture books Cheese Louise!, The Bored Book, The Boy & the Book and Hanukkah Harvie vs. Santa Claus; the early chapter book series, Mysterious Monsters; and the teen series, Forbidden Books. David's work for adults includes the comic-drama, Fun & Games, which the New York Journal of Books called “hilarious.” David teaches in Reno, Nevada, where he lives with his wife and son. 

David has written an insightful book about the 'Broken' American education system which is really worth a read.  As a result I have given the David the very rare opportunity to share some insights about himself and his great book below.  Please note that this is NOT a paid article.  We never receive payment for articles.

I’m not humble-bragging when I tell you that I’ve been stunned by the praise piling up for We’re Doing It Wrong: 25 Ideas in Education That Just Don’t Work – And How to Fix Them. I was hesitant to begin the project (my first work of nonfiction), unsure whether there was really any need for a collection of thoughts that, in my opinion, were 1) mostly common sense and 2) shared by many, if not most, teachers I’ve worked with over nearly twenty years. In other words, I feared wasting my time stating the obvious.

It seems the obvious needed to be stated – and that our discussions about education could benefit from an injection of common sense.
— David Michael Slater

Teachers who read early drafts of the book confirmed that they shared many of my opinions – but pointed out that no one ever asks for them. And it’s true: in all the endless chatter about public schools, the last people consulted on how they operate and might be improved are the people who actually work in them. Seeing their views and experiences working in an increasingly fraught environment reflected by a fellow teacher felt like a victory all by itself for many of the book’s first readers. It was equally exciting that a slew of educational gurus found the book worthy as well, experts who’ve read and written countless books on the subject.

But perhaps the best news is that WDIR has also been appealing to non-teachers. It’s been gratifying to hear from folks who are finding the book valuable in combating the chaos of misperceptions the general public has about public education. Everyone knows our schools have issues, but they really don’t know what they are. What they do know is that they’re tired of being told what to think about education by people with zero training in it – and who have never stepped foot in an actual classroom.

We’re Doing It Wrong is for everyone who wants to hear from people who spend every single day, year after year, in the classroom doing the hard work of teaching. It’s a conversation for them – for you I hope – and I’m humbled and honored to do my part in getting it started. If you’re interested, we’re continuing this critical dialogue at www.weredoingitwrong.com, where anyone with strong opinions about education are encouraged to share their thoughts.

Dumb things our education systems do. Handwriting

More often than not when I read an article related to education it has a negative connotation  generally fitting into one of the following categories.

  • Our Teachers are failing students.
  • Technology and students are a terrible mix, get rid of it.
  • Back in my day everyone could read write and count. Why cant they now?
  • Why aren't we more like (Insert Country name here.) who does education far better than us.

Occasionally, the odd good news story breaks through, but they are few and far between.

Having worked in education for over a decade I have see some of the most inspiring through to disengaged members of our community which are part of a massive machine we refer to as  the "Education System".  In Australia we account for one of the largest sectors of the workforce.

This year, I am setting out to point out that all too often our 'Education System' like many others around the world quite simply broken by hypocrisy, outdated thinking and stubbornness which fail our teachers and students from ever reaching their full potential.  Most of my points would be 99 percent invisible to the community and very easily rectified.  Whilst some of these items may seem small and trivial they add up quickly and are simply unnecessary.

Today, I am going to highlight the Australian handwriting debacle which is a cut and dried example of commerce winning over common sense.  Whilst I am specifically addressing Australia here this is repeated in other education systems around the world.

So here we go...  I am going to hit you with the simple facts first...

  • Australia is constructed of states and territories which had exclusive control of their own curriculum until recently when the Australian Curriculum was conceived back in 2008.  It is still being rolled out to bring consistency across the nation for teachers and students.
  • Somehow, Somewhere, Someone decided each state should have it's own style of handwriting students should be using purely based upon where they live.
  • These handwriting styles are almost identical which is demonstrated in the image below courtesy of kidzcopy.com.au  

Stick with me here because this is where it gets Dumb!! If not a little unethical

  • Any educator or contractor wishing to make a resource such as an Alphabet poster or a handwriting book in Australian schools has to create five versions of the exact same thing to ensure  it can be used from Broome to Bondi.  Making it time consuming and expensive even though our curriculum is now national.
  • Most of these fonts are commercially licensed (and expensive as seen in the table below.)  So if a teacher, and even a mum, dad or student wish to make a resource they have to pay to do so.  

So here are my questions regarding what I, and many others see as just plain dumb.  Maybe someone far smarter than me can explain the answers.

  • In 2016 why do we have different fonts for each state?
  • Who decided South Australia's font was unsuitable for Victoria and so on?
  • Why do our teachers, students and parents have to buy a license to use them for purely educational purposes?
  • Who is profiteering from this experience?  Is it the education departments or some commercial group?
  • How does having to pay to produce and use 5 different fonts help our teachers and students in any way?
  • How do we fix this small but dumb element of our education system?  

Here is my solution.  The Victorian Department of Education are obviously far more progressive than their neighbours and make their font (Victorian Modern Cursive) freely available to all.  

Let's (All Teachers) just adopt it as the Australian Handwriting Font and make our teachers and students lives easier by refusing to produce anything that requires a paid font.  You can download the Victorian Font here.

We don't have to keep doing DUMB things in the future just because we have done it in the past.

I would greatly appreciate your answers and thoughts regarding this topic and love to hear what elements of education you see that you think are just DUMB!!! I have more to come.

5 S.TE.M gifts for coders, makers and computational thinkers

With only a few weeks until Christmas many parents may not realise they have a budding Henry Ford in the making who just needs a spark to light a fire to ignite ingenuity and creativity.

Today, we are going look at five gifts that offer your kids to problem solve, code, identify patterns and create algorithms to solve programs.  Whilst I am writing about these at Christmas they would obviously also be great STEM resources for the classroom.

I had one of these Electronic Kits as a boy and I learnt so much about how electronic circuits work and what different components can do.  So much to do here for under $50.00 and they are very durable.  Whilst there are clear instructions to follow it also offers much in the way of problem solving and algorithmic design.

Laser maze encourages kids to think and act sequentially to solve and avoid problems.  Plenty of logic required to compete and it even uses real lasers.  

Okay, I know this one is a pricey option but it clearly ticks every box for quality of product, educational value and awesome fun.  Build an incredible robot using the worlds most proven and versatile toy.  Command your robot by either coding the inbuilt computer which is incredibly versatile or just use the remote control.   Then when you are finished use your imagination to create a robot or machine only limited by your imagination.  These sets are hugely popular in schools and are already highly credentialed for educational value alone.

Camelot Jr.
$26.40

Basic building blocks are great, but this wooden-block puzzle game helps build even more skills for your budding engineer or architect. It includes 48 interesting challenges at four different skill levels, all with the goal of connecting the prince and princess by building stairs, bridges, and towers according to the "blueprint" laid out in the challenge book.

No, it isn't Wall-E or an expensive super LEGO robot but ReCon is a great little programming rover that uses all the common commands and of real coders.  Easy to pick up, very versatile and won't break the bank.

So there are five options to consider in this space.  If you have any other suggestions please leave us a comment.

How Apple are hoping to rejuvenate the iPad's place in education in 2015.

Once upon a time the iPad changed the way in which we used technology in Education.  This shiny new device with a single button, easy to use interface and unrivaled 'App' store could do no wrong in the eyes of teachers and students and made us seriously rethink about what a computer was.

Since the iPad launched in 2010 we have seen the iPad's phenomenal rise and now it's slow fall as tough competition from Chromebooks and budget PC's and tablets closed the technology gap.  Poor decisions from Apple in regards to educational pricing and any significant improvements over six iPad generations aside from the obligatory faster processor, better camera and screen have left many schools questioning it's place in education as it is increasingly being used as a learning toy as opposed to a productivity tool.

Of all the big three tech companies (Apple, Microsoft and Google) Apple's future in education would be the most unenviable.  

Google's marriage of highly effective and cheap Chromebook's with Google Apps for Education productivity suite has bought them hundreds of millions of converts, and they are now the single biggest player in education.  The zero cost model of Google Apps for Education has been a roaring success for Google which will pay long term dividends when today's students are running tomorrow's economies.

Microsoft took a double hit in schools from the iPad initially and then Chromebooks.  They have regained some credibility with the integration of surface tablets and Office 365 for Education.  Surface tablet sales have grown year on year since release unlike the iPad which have fallen over the last two years.

Currently Apple's options for students are either an overpriced tablet or an overpriced laptop.  iTunes U is a poor curriculum delivery platform in comparison to Office and Google Apps and iCloud offers very little in the way of innovation and collaboration for educators.  The iPad is a train wreck when running Google apps for education and Office although both Microsoft and Google have deployed apps on the iPad to allow access to their productivity / learning platforms.  

In an attempt to re-energize the iPad's future in education Apple are planning to allow schools to manage iTunes accounts for students improve the deployment process for the iPad. 

They are also revisiting the manner in which iPads are managed when used by shared users in a school.  Unfortunately it does not look as though Apple are prepared to allow multiple logins on a single iPad yet, but we can live in hope.

The full details of this proposal can be read at 9to5Mac and it is expected to be rolled out in September 2015.  

Education is a huge space for technology companies and I am sure Apple will be working towards a product or policy change that will place them back at the top of the class.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

 

Teaching resources for remembrance day

Today is a great opportunity for us to reflect upon all of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Although remembrance day is intrinsically linked to World War One it's focus has changed to be inclusive of all modern conflicts. 

The Google cultural institute has some great resources that are useful in examining the 'Great War' with student which can be accessed here.  Please take some time to follow through the links contained within to get access to numerous world class sites which offer a global perspective on the conflict.

Alternately you can take a look at our resources on war and conflict with some great activities for teachers and students.

5 superstar celebrities who were once teachers

I thought we might do something a little lighthearted to finish off the week by providing some reinforcement to never give up on chasing your dreams if you aspire to be a superstar outside the classroom, as well as inside.

Today we are going to look at five big names from around the world who were once teachers.  

I am sure that they still sit around today wishing that they could attend staff meetings and be out on yard duty again in between counting their millions and running the world.

 

Sting

Transient

 

When he was known to the world as Gordon Sumner 'Sting' worked as a middle school teacher in England for two years in the early seventies.  If you take a listen to the song "Don't stand so close to me' you can hear that Sting definitely has experience working in schools before.  Is there any link to reality there?  I guess we'll never know.

J.K Rowling

Transient

Miss Hogwarts worked as a foreign Englsih teacher in Portugal.  She credits many of her characters inspiration from her experiences in the staff room and classroom.  Especially the nasty ones.

Barack Obama

Transient

Don't give up your aspirations of ruling the world just yet.  Barack Obama even worked in education once too.  Although he is a lawyer by trade Obama taught law at the University of Chicago.  He was offered more work as a lecturer but apparently he had bigger fish to fry.

Gene Simmons 

Before he deciding all he wanted to do was rock and roll all night and party every day.  Gene Simmons was a high school teacher.  Gene shared his well thought out insight when answering this question - So which do you think is harder: teaching or being a rock star? “It depends how high you want to reach,” Simmons told PARADE. “The rewards are much greater in the music business, but the pitfalls are very deep.” Plus, a room of students is harder to impress than a group of hardcore fans. “[When teaching], you’re in front of an audience who may not want to be there,” he says. “[As a rockstar], you’re in front of an audience who worships at your feet!”  Truer words may not have been spoken.

Sheryl Crow 

Transient

Before getting into showbiz, and a serious relationship with the most famous drug cheat in sporting history she was a teacher.  Sheryl Crow started her path to fame in front of the classroom. She taught music at Kellison Elementary school in Fenton, Missouri while working on her music. After selling a “back-to-school” jingle and other songs, she moved up as a songwriter for larger brands, then sang backup for Michael Jackson before gaining stardom in her own right with “All I Wanna Do Is Have Some Fun."

Move that old school server to the cloud in minutes with GAFE

Transient

see numerous schools who have decided to move all students and staff over to Google Apps for Education as they clearly see the benefit in a cloud based storage system over a local school based server.  The major benefit being the ability to access data from both home and school.

It is surprising to see many of these schools still persist in using their traditional school based servers to store all of their old or existing curriculum documents.  

This essentially means that once they walk out the school gates they are disconnected from all those great shared resources that they have been compiling for years.  What is the purpose?  And really why did you move to the cloud in the first place?

In my opinion there is no sense in going halfway to the cloud or you are simply stuck in fog.

The simple solution around this is to completely move your school server to the cloud by creating a separate GAFE  account such as curriculum@myschool.edu set up some folders and share them with the right permissions and people to act in the exact same manner your old server did.  Simply copy your old files onto these new folders and away you go.

This will instantly give you 30 GB of storage to house all of those school policies, shared units of works, resources etc.  

Before you tell me your current server holds terabytes of data or thereabouts and it won't fit into 30 GB of storage  remember it probably holds the data of all it’s users.  Teachers, Students admin staff and so on.

If your staff and students already have Google Apps for Education accounts they have 30GB of their own storage, and as such you no longer need to store their data.

Furthermore you probably have gigabytes of photos and docs that haven’t been opened in the last decade that quite frankly should go.  This is a great chance for a spring cleanout!

You are not bound by this 30GB limit either.  Google allows you to buy extra storage at very reasonable pricing that will send that storage through the roof.  Check out the pricing options here.

The final consideration you might have is backing up data.  Well first off feel confident that Google has you covered. If Google goes down during Armageddon there are probably bigger issues to deal with…

But just in case, all you need to do is install the Google Drive app on a PC or Mac and log in with the curriculum account.  This will synchronize all of that data in the cloud on a local computer and you can face the zombie apocalypse with confidence.

So there it is a cheap, fast and effective manner to move you old server to the cloud.  I would preface this by reminding schools only to pursue this path if they have a robust internet connection.

Some great teaching books worth considering

Over the last month or so I have been posting numerous lesson plans and resources to help improve students literacy skills.  These are free and will always to continue to be, so be sure to keep coming back.

Many of these ideas are inspired by some great books that are available for you right now.  So, I have put together a selection of some of the better teacher resource books I have used and had recommended to me.

Many of these are available as paperback and eBooks.  I hope you enjoy them





Kevin Cummins

ICT Consultant with over 60 schools in Victoria Australia. Google Certified Teacher, Masters of I.T Education and above all else husband and dad.